Faces of Hunger
Gunnison Country Food Pantry is here to serve residents of Gunnison County facing hunger.
“Thank goodness for good neighbors.”
Neighbors helping neighbors.
Gunnison County has 17,000 people. One-third live below the Self-Sufficiency Standard. They are our neighbors. The Pantry exists to provide food assistance for them. The stories you are about to read are true. Identities have been changed to respect the dignity of Pantry recipients.
ANNA has lived in the Gunnison Valley for a few years and has minimal English-speaking skills. She does housekeeping work to support herself and her young daughter. When she was hired by Crested Butte Mountain Resort, she gained steady employment, depending on the flow of tourists. At her employee orientation, she learned about the Food Pantry when she received a Sample Bag of Food and a Gunnison County Basic Needs Resource Guide.
Today, Anna visits the Pantry every week to supplement a sustainable supply of healthy, nutritional food for her daughter and herself. “The food I shop for at the Pantry is better quality than I can afford at the grocery story with a wide selection of fruits and vegetables and ingredients for our family favorites I like to cook.”
ELENA came into the Pantry just before closing on a Wednesday evening. She was greeted with a smile and an offer to help. Tears began to well in her eyes. Pushing a cart through the doorway, her story poured out. An hour before, a family member had unexpectedly placed four little children into her care. Elena, who already has four children of her own, was overwhelmed at the thought of feeding all those mouths. She said as she wept, “How am I going to do this?” She was reassured that the Pantry would help through this difficult time. Elena began to fill her basket with milk, fresh produce, snacks, packages of meat, and canned goods. Not only was the Pantry able to fill her cart with food, but Pantry volunteers also filled her heart with hope.
Today, life is under control at Elena’s house. Her grown sister lives with her now and helps with the younger children. Elena and Sophia visit the Pantry regularly. Food is not a problem.
JARRETT returned to the Gunnison Valley about 20 years ago. He made snow on the mountain during the winter and did ranch work in the summer. He loved his outdoor jobs but could barely live off the wages they paid. It would have been great to get help with food. Unfortunately for him, the Pantry did not open until 2006. His mom who began volunteering there in 2013, told him about the help it offered. During the shoulder seasons, he began dropping by the Pantry when money got tight before paydays. When the Pantry was figuring how to tell seasonal workers that they could get food assistance, they asked Jarrett if Sample Bags of Food might work. “Sure,” he said, “I’d eat the food right away, but I’d remember where it came from.”
Today, Jarrett is 20 years into a good career in construction. He encourages the guys he works with to go to the Pantry. In fact, he has taken a couple by after work himself when he could see they were hesitant or embarrassed. “The Hispanic guys can even pick out their favorite foods and familiar ingredients they know how to cook. The Food Pantry is one of the best things going in Gunnison County.”
JOHN was born in the Gunnison Valley. He and Mary ranched south of CB where they raised four kids who did well; however, their jobs took them to other places to live. Mary died a couple of years ago. They taught their kids to be self-reliant. John would not think of asking his kids to help him out, but he is finding it extremely hard to live on a Social Security check.
Today, John enjoys stopping by the Pantry on Thursday mornings for coffee and to talk with folks he has known all his life. It feels okay to accept food he is offered from people he knows. It sure does help him get by. “Better food from the Pantry has made all the difference in my health and energy.”
KYLE AND MEREDITH. College was not working out well for Kyle and Meredith. They thought they would like to work at a ski resort. You know, get jobs, earn lift tickets. That would be a great life. So, they moved to Crested Butte. Didn’t turn out quite like they expected. It seems jobs are limited in a small town, and it is not usually the newest residents who are hired. Still, they found work here and there — mostly temp jobs. And then, they found the Pantry. That made all the difference. The nice thing is when Meredith and Kyle were not working, they helped at the Pantry. They made friends and good connections.
Today, those first bleak months in Gunnison County are just a memory. Kyle and Meredith stopped wandering and made their home here. They’ve started a sweet little family, always add a donation to a Red Bucket, and smile with gratitude when they pass the Pantry. Now, if only they could buy their starter home…
MICHELLE is a single mom living in Gunnison raising two girls — resilient kids with healthy appetites. When Michelle lost her job, the folks at the Dept. of Health and Human Services helped her apply for SNAP benefits and suggested she visit the Pantry while her application was being processed. Not only did she receive staples, milk, eggs, and meat, she was given fresh produce. Children need fruits and vegetables to grow and fight off colds. The Pantry helped her through the winter. She was proud when she came in to tell us she had a new job. Funny thing was that she no longer qualified for SNAP even though she was only making an entry-level wage. She knew she would be welcome at the Pantry until her earnings caught up with her kids’ appetites!
Today, Michelle doesn’t come to the Pantry anymore. Her daughters grew up! Michelle tells the young women at her church about the Pantry and continues to help young families make a good life in Gunnison County.
RENEE AND SCOTT. Renee and her husband Scott work in Gunnison, rent a house and each have cars. They do not qualify for governmental food assistance through SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) or energy assistance through LEAP (Low Income Energy Assistance Program). They, like many, are in the “gap.” They make too much to qualify for assistance, but live paycheck to paycheck, often skipping meals in lieu of other financial expenses, such as utilities and vehicle maintenance. They are barely getting by. With inflation, things are getting worse. Savings are not possible.
Gunnison Country Food Pantry is the safety net for Renee and Scott and so many other families who find themselves in the gap. They stop by the Pantry after work on Wednesdays to get enough food for the week. Sure, they still shop at the grocery store, but their grocery bill has dropped by half.
RICHARD lives at home and does not drive due to his failing eyesight. Going to the Pantry on Thursdays is no longer an option. That added to the risk of getting sick from the Coronavirus made things more challenging. He likes the nice folks who bring him a warm lunch on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays but he needs to eat the other meals and the food needs to be easy to prepare.
Now, Pantry volunteers bring him a home delivery every week. He is doing much better. He can even call the Pantry and talk to someone who will adjust his delivery if they are sending something the doctor says he shouldn’t eat. Everyone knows old age isn’t for sissies but who knew it would be so hard? As Richard says, “Thank goodness for good neighbors.”
SAM is a nice-looking kid, isn’t he? Typical, average American kid. However, by Saturday evenings Sam is one very hungry little boy. Both his parents have jobs — earning minimum wages. They can pay the rent and keep the house warm during the winter but that is when they often run out of food before payday. Sam qualifies for free meals at school. On weekends, Sam sees his parents giving him what food is available. Sam is eleven and old enough to understand his parents are going without, so he eats as little as possible. Sam is one of 5.6% of children nationwide who live with Very Low Food Security; they miss meals. The Pantry partners with other community groups so that together Gunni-Packs: Kid Friendly Meals can be offered to Sam and other children.
Today, Sam knows there is a Mini-Pantry in his school. He can go by the Nurse’s Office and put enough food in his backpack for the weekend. He takes enough for his little brother and if he takes some for his mom and dad while he’s there, that’s okay, too.
JESSICA AND ERIC live in Somerset, Colorado, on the western edge of Gunnison County. They both had good jobs. Jessica had been a server at a local café for several years. Eric was a full-time employee of the Park Service. When Gunnison County issued the stay-at-home order for COVID-19, they were instantly unemployed. Fear and desperation began to creep in. Then Terry, one of the neighbors, called to check on them and asked what they needed. “Food” was Jessica’s instant reply. Terry heard that answer so many times when she talked to all the families in Somerset that she knew she had to act. By partnering with Gunnison Country Food Pantry, the Greater Somerset Food Pantry opened April 6, 2020, less than a month after the pandemic was declared. Guess who the first recipients of food assistance were—Jessica and Eric!
Today, Greater Somerset Food Pantry is serving about 50 households every month. They are applying for their own 501(c)(3) status and planning for the future of their small community.
TREVOR works on the mountain. In the winter, he makes and grooms snow. In the summer he is a river guide. He loves his jobs. Then there are the Shoulder Seasons. A guy he had been working with for several years, took his own life in May. He was camping near Cement Creek so he could eat and pay bills. Hunger does not cause mental health problems; however, it sure adds to the despair which leads to depression. Trevor saw the Pantry’s sign on the RTA bus and started coming to the Pantry this fall.
Today, Trevor knows when the Pantry opens to distribute free groceries. He rides the bus down to Gunnison free. He can cope a better during the Mud Season until works starts up again.